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Black soldiers have served in the American military since the days of the Revolutionary War. Following the battle of Bunker Hill, for example, a number of black soldiers were given commendations for distinguishing themselves in battle. However, when General George Washington took command of the Revolutionary Army, he did not allow blacks to enlist, fearing a slave revolt.

Blacks were excluded from the Regular Army until 1866. While the Civil War was the first conflict in which large numbers of blacks served, they were segregated into the U.S. Colored Volunteers and thus were not officially in the Regular Army. Between 180,000 and 200,000 black soldiers served in the Union army, about 10% of the Grand Army of the Republic, but they were technically “volunteers” rather than “regular” soldiers.

Republicans demanded that blacks be allowed to serve in the Regular Army and thus in 1866 Congress authorized the first African-American army units: four black infantry regiments and two black cavalry regiments. In 1869, the four infantry regiments were combined into the Twenty-fourth Infantry and the Twenty-fifth Infantry Regiments. Only white officers were allowed to lead.

For the white officers (there were no black officers), assignment to the 25th was viewed as a less desirable posting. Many viewed posting to a black unit as a dead end for their career. George Armstrong Custer, for example, was originally assigned to the black 9th Cavalry, but he insisted that he be assigned to the white 7th Cavalry instead. For many of the white officers, their attitudes toward their black soldiers, and toward African-Americans in general, changed once they had the opportunity to see them in action.  By 1899, 18 black soldiers had been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.

The black regiments were assigned to duties in the West and the white people in the East complained about having black soldiers stationed near their communities. While white regiments were rotated periodically back to the East, this was not the case for the black regiments.

During the Indian Wars following the Civil War, it is estimated that at least 20% of the U.S. troops were black. While desertion was common among white troops stationed in the West, this was not the case among black troops. This led some officers to suggest that only blacks be enlisted. It has been estimated that had enlistment been restricted to blacks only during the 23 years following the Civil War it would have saved the military about $10 million.

In 1870, the 25th Infantry Regiment was sent to San Antonio, Texas and in 1880 it was transferred to the northern Plains where it operated in Montana, Dakota Territory, and Minnesota. In 1888, Headquarters, Field, Staff, Band, and Companies G, H, I, and K were moved to Fort Missoula; Companies A and D were moved to Fort Custer; and Companies B, C, E, and F were stationed at Fort Shaw. The soldiers were used to quell possible Indian uprisings and to prevent violence at labor disputes. The black soldiers from the 25th Infantry saw action in the 1892 Johnson County, Wyoming cattle war and in the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho mining strike.

 photo Buffalo_soldiers1FortKeogh_zps51cef802.jpg

The 25th Infantry at Fort Keogh, Montana is shown above.

 photo DSCN6444_zps9b57d219.jpg

 photo DSCN6443_zps8c1278c0.jpg

There were some Army officers who called for the desegregation of the Army. In 1880, General William Tecumseh Sherman supported desegregation and felt that all qualified men should be enlisted and assigned to regiments regardless of race. He wrote:

“Such has been the law and usage in the Navy for years, and the Army would soon grow accustomed to it.”
In 1883, General Samuel B. Holabird asked Congress to abolish the distinction between white and black troops.

In 1866, Congress directed each permanent Army post to establish a school. Regimental chaplains were assigned the responsibility for providing education at these schools. In 1875, George Gatewood Mullins was assigned as Chaplain to the 25th Infantry. He had a master’s degree from the University of Kentucky. He soon found that many of the soldiers were unable to read and write so he created an organized school with regular classes. The routines at Fort Missoula were adjusted to allow the solders time for study. Soon many of the black soldiers had mastered reading and writing which often led to new assignments as regimental clerks.

 photo DSCN6449_zpscab61302.jpg

Later Theophilus Gould Steward (shown above) was appointed  Chaplain to the 25th Infantry at Fort Missoula in 1891. He was a prominent pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In his book, The Colored Regulars in the United States Army, he describes the departure of the 25th Infantry from Fort Missoula, Montana:

“Many were the compliments paid officers and men by the good people of Missoula, none perhaps more pleasing than that furnished by a written testimonial to the regret experienced at the departure of the regiment, signed by all the ministers in the city.”
In 1898, the 25th Infantry, as well as the other black units, were sent south to train to fight in Cuba. It was assumed that the black soldiers would be more resistant to the tropical diseases which they would encounter. Here they encountered Jim Crow laws and they were refused service in local businesses.

In Cuba, the 25th Infantry saw action in the battle of El Caney where they worked their way to the top of a hill under heavy fire to capture a stone fort.

Following the war in Cuba, the 25th Infantry was assigned to posts in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In 1899 they were sent to the Philippines where they fought to put down a rebellion. The black soldiers found themselves in the position of fighting against oppressed islanders who were seeking independence from foreign (i.e. U.S.) rule. One of the members of the 25th Infantry, M.W. Saddler, would write:

“We are now arrayed to meet a common foe, men of our own hue and color. Whether it is right to reduce these people to submission is not a question for a soldier to decide. Our oaths of allegiance know neither race, color, nor nation.”
Following the Philippine Insurrection, the 25th Infantry, with the exception of the 2nd Battalion, was sent to Fort Niobara, Nebraska.

Originally posted to Ojibwa on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 03:45 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, RaceGender DiscrimiNATION, and Black Kos community.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Buffalo Soldiers ... (16+ / 0-)

    Some say that the Indians called African-American soldiers by that name because of the texture of their hair. Others say the name came from buffalo hide coats that they wore, as in the top photo above. What say you ?

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 03:57:29 PM PDT

    •  Dreadlock Rasta (8+ / 0-)

      Buffalo Soldiers

      From the Wiki article is this interesting tidbit:

      In September 1867, Private John Randall of Troop G of the 10th Cavalry Regiment was assigned to escort two civilians on a hunting trip. The hunters suddenly became the hunted when a band of 70 Cheyenne warriors swept down on them. The two civilians quickly fell in the initial attack and Randall's horse was shot out from beneath him. Randall managed to scramble to safety behind a washout under the railroad tracks, where he fended off the attack with only his pistol until help from the nearby camp arrived. The Cheyenne beat a hasty retreat, leaving behind 13 fallen warriors. Private Randall suffered a gunshot wound to his shoulder and 11 lance wounds, but recovered. The Cheyenne quickly spread word of this new type of soldier, "who had fought like a cornered buffalo; who like a buffalo had suffered wound after wound, yet had not died; and who like a buffalo had a thick and shaggy mane of hair."
      Thank you Ojibwa for honoring these brave men.

      "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

      by US Blues on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 06:48:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  the most courageous soldies, ever, (11+ / 0-)

    and let's include the Redtails, in view of the extreme prejudice these courageous soldier faced in  view of something inane and biased based on nothing more than skin color Sound familiar??? Thank you for positing thi rel event and still topical diary matter.

    Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

    by richholtzin on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 04:31:48 PM PDT

  •  We won the Spanish - American war and (7+ / 0-)

    Spain ceded its Philippine colony to us. Before we even ratified the treaty, conflict broke out with the locals. This was not a Philippine insurrection, but a US invasion bent on enslaving the people of the Philippines.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 04:52:54 PM PDT

  •  African Americans killing indigenous Americans (8+ / 0-)

    Why don't I think that is a good story.

  •  Thank you for another wonderful diary (8+ / 0-)

    I'm a first cousin of Captain David Schooley, Captain of E Company. He was an engineer based at Fort Davis and spent most of his career with the 25th Infantry building roads and telegraph lines.  In researching him, I came across an excerpt of a letter he wrote to a superior in which he suggested a program of education for black soldiers. He had taught school for awhile before leaving to serve in the Civil War. But, I think he retired not long after that. It's good to hear that the soldiers of the 25th finally got that opportunity.

  •  Elsewhere blacks were part of New World armies (6+ / 0-)

    And I am not talking about Haiti as this superb diary by gjohnsit today (which should be on Recommended);

    Haiti: The most important revolution in history that you probably don't know

    When Charles Darwinarrived in Montevideo in 1832 he was asked to help put down a rebellion by soldiers in a black batallion;

    5th This has been an eventful day in the history of the Beagle.— At 10 oclock in the morning the Minister for the present military government came on board & begged for assistance against a serious insurrection of some black troops.— Cap FitzRoy immediately went ashore to ascertain whether it was a party affair, or that the inhabitants were really in danger of having their houses ransacked.— The head of the Police (Damas) has continued in power through both governments, & is considered as entirely neutral; being applied to, he gave it as his opinion that it would be doing a service to the state to land our force.— |206| Whilst this was going on ashore, the Americans landed their boats & occupied the Custom house.— Immediately the Captain

    [page] 90 MONTE VIDEO AUGUST 1832

    arrived at the mole, he made us the signal to hoist out & man our boats. In a very few minutes, the Yawl, Cutter, Whaleboat & Gig were ready with 52 men heavily armed with Muskets, Cutlasses & Pistols. After waiting some time on the pier Signor Dumas arrived & we marched to a central fort, the seat of government. During this time the insurgents had planted artillery to command some of the streets, but otherwise remained quiet. They had previously broken open the Prison & armed the prisoners.— The chief cause of apprehension was owing to their being in possession of the citadel which contains all the ammunition.— It is suspected that all this disturbance is owing to the mæneuvering of the former constitutional government.— But the politicks of the place are quite unintelligible: it has always been said that the interests of the soldiers & the present government are identical.—& now it would seem to be the reverse.—

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 06:01:06 PM PDT

  •  Probably fortunate for 9th Cav that Custer was (6+ / 0-)

    too prejudiced to command a black regiment!

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 06:01:10 PM PDT

  •  One thing, though... (4+ / 0-)

    The 25th did not stay in San Antonio.

    General Mower died at New Orleans January 6, 1870, and was succeeded by Colonel (and Bvt. Major General) J. J. Reynolds who was placed in command of the Department of Texas the following April, without having joined the regiment. In May, 1870, the regiment was on its way to that department, going by steamer to Indianola, Texas, thence marching to San Antonio. Colonel Bliss with Companies B, C and G arrived at the latter place on June 3 and encamped at San Pedro Springs where they were joined by the rest of the regiment, under General Hinks, on the 9th. The march to stations began June 22d. The main body took the Fort Clark road, while Companies C and H diverged on the road to Fort McKavett. At Rio Frio, Companies E and I marched for Fort Duncan, under Colonel Bliss. July found Headquarters, Companies D and F established at Fort Clark; Company K at Fort Stockton; Companies A and G at Fort Davis; Company B did not reach its distant station, Fort Quitman, until August.
  •  Texas (5+ / 0-)

    I live near Ft. Davis Texas where the Flipper scandal occurred in the 19th century, speaking of black soldiers. And the little village I live in at 79842 was founded as an 8th or 9th Cav. post, called Camp (or sometimes Fort) Pena Colorado.
    North of here at San Angelo the towns people loved the black soldiers until the Comanches were driven away, and then used mob rule and vicious laws to drive the black soldiers off.
    Texas has an interesting history.
    Thank you for posting this.

    I buy and sell well trained riding mules and American Mammoth Jack Stock.

    by old mule on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 06:11:24 PM PDT

  •  Great stuff....but I would correct one (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    error - commonly made - in the second para. The term 'Regular Soldier' might be misunderstood to some extant. Yes, the Grand Army had a 10% complement of Black soldiers. And, yes, they were not considered 'regular soldiers'. But neither was about 80-90% of  the whole 'regulars'. Most were on enlistments ranging from 90 days to three years at the State level. Indeed, the Army of the Potomac faced a crisis in 1864 when many of the three year enlistments expired. The actual 'Regular' component of the Army as a whole was very small.

     As it was in 1939 when it's numbers stood at 125,000 all ranks. Yet, six years later the number stood at, oh, about five million all ranks. And they were not 'regulars' either. Yet they, like the Grand Army of the Republic, had some success. ( winning goes a long way towards describing 'success' )

     Just a little termonoligy nitpicking by a history geek on an otherwise great and interesting diary. The story of the black units in the US Army from post civil war era untill long overdue segregation is one of troops and units that maintained an exceptional standard of professionalism and dedication that is all too unkown to far too many.
    It's a great story and a proud legacy ( especially if you view it from the position of having been one those 'Regulars' as I had the good fortune to be. Even if I am about as WASP as possible )

     A good 'history peek' is the story of the 92nd Division in WW2 Italy. A unit of soldiers -- if led well, as any -- who were not. They were led poorly Those guys got the misfortune of being commanded by ( I won't say led ) probably the single worst individualever  to wear Major General rank in US Army history ( and there is competetion! ), an ignorant, duplicitous ( he thrived working for MacArthur later ) cracker grad of the Citadel, Ned Almon. Jerk should never of made captain.

    it tastes like burning...

    by eastvan on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 08:09:36 PM PDT

    •  WW2 Differentiation in Name (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa, eastvan, RiveroftheWest

      Some years ago I had the good fortune to speak with a WW2 veteran who showed me his discharge papers which contained something I hadn't seen previously.  He was discharged from the Army of the United States, not the United States Army, as one might have imagined.  The expression "Army of the United States," as I learned upon further investigation, applies to those who volunteer or are conscripted into the enlarged, temporary structure needed during times of major war.  Only the Regulars would have been discharged from the United States Army.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 08:18:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly..... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, Ojibwa

        And many regular army officers held ranks in the 'AUS' that were often two or three grades higher than that shown on the USA seniority list. Put simply, a USA Captain might hold the rank of Lt Col or even Col in the AUS, all the while anxiously scanning the RA promotion list to see if they had made Major so they wouldn't fall too far when the war was over. Same in WW1. Many 'Colonels' were bumped back to Captain and didn't see such lofty rank for another twenty years. George Marshall was one. Up to Col and back to Captain for a decade or so.

        it tastes like burning...

        by eastvan on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 10:11:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Tipped & rec'ed (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest
  •  Jim Crow laws in Cuba, I have to disagree (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

    Jim Crow laws were brought to Cuba by the U.S.

    That is Cuban history as I was taught as a Cuban and it seems to be substantiated by many.

    Thank you for the diary Ojibwa. It so happens today I just read Roberto Zurbano's piece on the change in Cuba related to Afro-Cubans specifically.

    About the war for independenc:


    Signs inscribed "We cater to white people only," were going up in Havana at the insistance of American Officers and soldiers.

    Page 4 (pdf) link below.

    Race Toward Equality: The Impact of the Cuban Revolution on Racism (pdf).

    Cuba had black generals leading white troops.

    Cuba had an integrated Army.

    General Quintin Banderas,  (pdf) Afro-cubano was an important general.

    This is not to say racism didn't exist and there are issues today as pointed out by Roberto Zurbano in Cuba, (March 26, 2013):

    The Country to Come: and My Black Cuba? By Roberto Zurbano. The original article as submitted to the New York Times

    To add to your diary; In 1899 the U.S. occupation's provisional military government created a voting franchise to eliminate Afro-Cubans from politics. The result is outlined by Zurbano.


    General Wood ...Having ensured a steady influx of white settlers, Wood drafted legislation to keep black and Chinese immigration to a minimum. In May 1902, five days before leaving, he signed a law forbidding the import of contract labour, specifically mentioning the Chinese, but preventing a possible surge in black immigration from Puerto Rico. Estrada’s new Republic made no break with the old colonial order, and retained the racist legislation imposed by the Americans.
    Link: Gott's The Cuban Republic, 1902 – 1952

    The PIC Partido Independiente de Color:
    The first black political party in the americas was eliminated.

    A good horse is never a bad color.

    by CcVenussPromise on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 03:44:00 AM PDT

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